Breaking the ice in Drama is integral for the success of your classroom. Putting myself on the line and dancing without limitations is one way I have been known to start the year. The ice may not crumble all at once, but the defrosting process must begin in those opening moments. The Drama Classroom should be a warm, safe place, free from the social glaciers that divide the arctic expanse beyond the walls of your room. Here are my top 5 ways to break the ice at the start of the year.
1. Name Balloon (Category: Names) – It is obvious, but to begin everyone needs to know each other names and this is one of my favourite ways to do it. It also requires focus, energy and quick thinking. For this game you will need a balloon (or two if you want to get tricky). Stand in a circle and one by one ask the students to say their names so that those that don’t know any can play. Throw the balloon up in the centre of the circle and call a students name. The student you call must run in and hit the balloon before it touches the ground, calling another students name and so on. Once they have the idea add extra challenges. See how many times they can hit it before it touches the ground, provide them with a record to break or add extra balloons. It is simple, but so much fun.
2. Perfect Pairs (Category: Getting to Know You): I recently played this game with 53 students on the basketball courts as a ‘getting to know’ you exercise for a new play I was rehearsing. It was wild to say the least! Students move around the space beginning by walking, but as the game progresses you can add new movement challenges such as running, jumping, sliding, rolling, flying etc. There is no talking at this point and students are reminded to focus on themselves and not on others. When you call pair, students must make a pair with the person closest to them. They introduce themselves and then they are given a challenge. The challenges begin simple, but become harder as the game progresses and could include but are not limited to – sharing their favourite movie, creating a secret handshake, having a thumb war, giving their partner a shoulder massage, pulling faces at each other, playing a game of tip with their partner, inventing a new style of dance, or having a wheelbarrow race. Set a time limit and stick to it. Before you begin moving through the space ask some of the pairs to share what they discovered or created. They will be laughing together in no time.
3. Table Drop (Category: Trust): Trust activities are an integral part of establishing a safe classroom environment. Trust activities I use include the Circle Lean, Body Lift, rising with arms linked together, knee sits, Blind Obstacle Course etc. Table drop is my favourite though as it really pushes them beyond their comfort zone. (Note: It is not for the weak of heart!) You need a sturdy table on a non-slip surface. Six students stand in two rows, close together, in front of the table facing each other. The shortest should be closest to the table. They cross their arms and form a monkey grip. Check all arms are secure. Another student stands on the table with their arms crossed in front of their chest and their hands on their shoulders. When the student is ready they drop face first into the waiting arms. The students then place their feet down gently on the ground. Ensure the pair furthest away will make contact with their upper chest rather than their neck. I am always the first to drop off the table... I have only been dropped once in 15 years! If you aren’t confident you could put crash mats in the fall zone. Not all students will take the drop, but all students should be involved in someway – either catching or counting to three.
4. Boal’s Columbian Hypnosis (Category: Freeing the Body): This is one of the earliest exercises I use in my classroom. Students enjoy this exercise because they are able to move in new ways, but are less self-conscious as a leader is guiding them. Students work in pairs, one is the hypnotiser, one the hypnotised. The hypnotiser holds their palm approximately a ruler length away from their partners face. The hypnotised must ensure that their face remains the same distance from the hypnotisers palm at all times. The hypnotiser slowly moves their palm guiding their partner around the space. Ask them to be as creative as possible using as much of the space as they can. Encourage them to hold their hand high, close to the ground, upside down, really pushing their partners body into new and interesting positions. You can find extensions of this activity in Augusto Boal’s Games for Actors and Non-Actors.
5. What Are You Doing? (Category: Creativity / Improvisation): Most drama teachers will be familiar with this exercise, but it is such a great starting point for kids that have never had to improvise before. Students begin in a circle. The centre of the circle is the performance space. One student begins miming an everyday activity in the centre of the circle (Eg. Baking a cake, mowing the lawn). Another student steps in and asks ‘What are you doing?’. The student in the centre answers the question with a completely different action such as ‘I’m doing the groceries’. The new student begins doing the action they were given and the original student returns to their place. This continues until all students have had a go. As the game progresses encourage students to step away from everyday activities and embrace their creativity (Eg. Painting an elephants toenails or wrestling crocodiles). This is simple enough that all students can participate without feeling too over-whelmed. It also introduces them to the concept of yielding. (Note: I am not sure of the original origin of this activity but it certainly one I have used for many years.)
Finally, I believe the key to breaking the ice in the drama classroom is the teacher. If you participate in these activities, whole-heartedly, joyfully and energetically the students will too and soon the temperature in the room will be soaring!